GRIFFITH once again rolled out the welcome mat for some of Australia's finest fighters as the national kyokushin karate squad kicked off the 2014 season with a gruelling two-day training camp at the weekend.
In what has become an annual tradition for the team, Frank Cirillo's RMA & Total Fitness dojo housed more than 20 of the country's best martial artists as they officially began preparations for a huge World Cup year.
The current Australian squad contains fighters of all ages and has a strong Griffith flavour with a handful of locals in the mix including national champ Lisa Hodder, who was crowned Griffith's Senior Sportsperson of the Year on Australia Day.
The team is only able to get together to train around three times a year and Cirillo said he was proud Griffith was able to serve as host for the fourth year running.
"A lot of years ago it was different," he said.
"We've come so far and Griffith is starting to embrace what used to be the outsider sports.
"We're getting champions through here on a regular basis and we've built a platform for them.
"You'd never see a martial artist up for Sportsperson of the Year, for example, but Lisa Hodder won it.
"She took every title last year and you can't ask for more than that. She's where she needs to be at the moment, which is awesome.
"We've come a long way."
Cirillo described the training camp as the "wake-up call" the squad needed to get the ball rolling ahead of an important 12 months.
With state championships in Victoria and NSW to come, followed by the national titles and then the World Cup in South Africa in September, it was an opportunity for the squad to reacquaint themselves with the basics of the sport.
And there was an added test with the scorching heat outside forcing them to battle not only each other, but the elements.
"It's all about blood, sweat and bruises I really can't put it any milder," Cirillo said.
"There were no apologies for that, but it brought everyone to a higher level.
"The energy and the spirit in there was really awesome.
"It seems like everyone's finding their own threshold this year.
"We went old-style.
"There was a lot of people that had blood all over their suits.
"But like we said, blood is just red sweat," he laughed.
The squad is unlikely to train together until just before Easter, with most members set to take part in a one-match challenge event in Traralgon next month.
Hodder, however, will instead focus on her preparations on her shot at a black belt the week after.